Ikaria: The Jamaica of the Aegean
With 8,500 residents -and quite a few centenarians among them- and equal number of rumors about its paradoxes, Ikaria hypnotizes everyone with its peculiarity. Icarus gave his name to this beautiful island in the North Aegean Sea, west of the island of Samos. What really distinguishes Ikaria is staying away from anything fake. Locals will advice you to “loosen up” and will mean it, as the paces here are slow and the smartest move would be to adapt to them. After all, maybe this is the secret to the longevity of which the locals are so famous.
The stories about the island's extremely relaxed pace of life and the jokes about cups of coffee that take more than 30 minutes to prepare, are partly true. Especially in the highlands where tourists are scarce. However, the ikarian temperament is part of the island's charm. As is the unwritten rule of hitch-hiking. Just stick out your thumb and it's very likely that the first car to pass by will pick you up. The only thing that seems to have changed in Ikaria during the past few years, is the community of hardcore free campers who had been spending their summers at Na, right under the ruins of the temple of Artemis. Unfortunately, their “secret Eden” no longer exists as the environmental degradation has seriously affected the canyon's vegetation, forcing the free campers of Na to move to other beaches around the island.
Nowadays, surfers are invading the waves of Messakti, campers are settling at the beautiful beach of Meadow, while only a few are discovering the rather secluded beach of Partheni near the village of Armenisti. Popular dining hangouts are "Popi's Kitchen" near the moorage of Gialiskarion, the "Dolphin" at Armenisti and "Filitsa" where you can taste ikarian gourmet dishes. As for the «Card Postal» at Livadi, it keeps hosting parties that go on until the early hours. As always, Christos, the biggest village of the Rahes region, comes to life when the clock strikes midnight. In order to really capture Ikaria's nightlife, you'll have to join the greek youth to the various bars and tradicional taverns under the platanus. For those with rather alternative tastes, the “Treehouse” and “Sknipa” are two of the island's “cult” bars that are definitely worth visiting. In Armenisti, if you are in the mood of dancing we higly recommend the decadent basement “Casmir” and if you are feeling lucky try the “Rebel”, the only bar that opens whenever his owner feels like it.
In case a “panigiri” (a traditional festival) is taking place, the whole island will be there and guests are more than welcome, so don't hesitate to join in. Ikaria's calender has a long list of those festivals that deserve a special mention for teaching travelers what "Ikariotikos" and true greek feasts mean! Nowhere in Greece you will come upon so many traditional festivals. In Ikaria there are about fifty, almost as many as its villages. If you want to see the true colours of Ikaria you should attend one of these feasts and become one with the crowd, dancing and drinking lots of wine accompanied by plenty of roasted meat. The inaugural festival is that of St. Isidore at the village of Pezi on May 14 and the last at St. Sophia at Monokabi on September 17. The highlights, however, are the famous “panigiria” at Lagkada and Akamatra that take place in 15th of August.
Dancing at the traditional festival of Karavostamos
At 255 square kilometers, its extent unfolds beautiful landscapes protected by the Natura 2000 program that will be widely appreciated by those looking for low-key naturalistic and hiking holidays. Dare to "introduce yourself" to the rich vegetation, pine forests, canyons, rivers and streams along the various hiking trails. Get your watersports gear and your diving masks, explore the deep crystal waters of the Ikarian Sea and indulge in an endless discovery of sandy coastlines.
The quiet Agios Kyrikos, the island's capital, and the more funky Evdilos in the North (both of them ports) will meet your every need for accommodation, food and fun and will serve as the base of your excursions to the countryside. Walk the streets of the picturesque villages, admire the architecture of the buildings with their tiled roofs and the stone houses with their aristocratic finesse but also benefit from the healing properties of the hot springs that you will discover in many parts of the island.
As for the beaches, the choices are endless. Although you will have to walk a bit to get there, the beach at Drakano is worth it. But remember to bring the necessary, since the beach is not organized. Locals claim that “Iero” is the most beautiful beach. To this sheltered cove with turquoise waters you will resort the days when the winds are strong and the waves menacing. In the south , the Anefanti is ideal for those who love fishing, since the caves and rock formations are ideal for snorkeling. In Armenisti you can enjoy the much-needed tranquility that you seek. In Gialiskarion, next to Mesakti, is Livadi, one of the busiest beaches on the island. Specifically during August you will hassle to find space for even your handbag. Lovers of surfing will also love Mesakti, as the winds are ideal and the access is easy for carrying your equipment. The beach of Na is also of special interest and lies at the mouth of a river. Descend the stairs to reach it and swim in emerald waters. Here you will see the Temple of Artemis, search for the path that leads to the lake and dare to dive in the water under the waterfall of Halari. With beautiful turquoise waters mentioning Picture postcard to arrive in Seychelles will have to walk a bit in the end but will reward you what you will see when you arrive . Finally, Fanari is the longest beach on the island and the trees along it offer plenty of shade. This is the ideal place for those who love diving and exploring the deep.
Fournoi, the three little islands between Ikaria and Samos offer an excellent day-trip opportunity. Boats will take you from the port of Agios Kirikos to Fournoi where you will find friendly people and absolute tranquility. You can even stay there, as there are several accommodation choices and the few restaurants offer fresh seafood, while the beaches are beautiful – some are steep, other form small bays but the most famous are Bali, Kamari Kambi and Agios Giannis. Another alternative is to tour the island of Thimena, a genuine fishing village with the beautiful beach of Kerameidou.
When to go
Ikaria is purely a summer destination, so the suggested visiting period falls between May and September, with the dates around August 15th being more popular cause of the island's famous festivals.
What to see
- Tavropolion: From the ancient settlement of Naiadon, west of Armenisti, is still preserved the waterfront and the floor of the sanctuary, both parts of the ancient harbor.
- Oinoi: In the area of Campos was the ancient capital of the island, also called Dionysias. Today only the remains of the wall and the ruins of an old house of the Byzantine period have left to remind its past glory.
- Drakano: If you are interested in the Alexandrian years, take the road to the east of the island. In “Fanari” once stood the so-called homeland of Dionysus. Here you will find ruins of an ancient castle, while at the top of the hill stands a tower dating from the 4th century.
- The fortress of Koskina: Just outside the village Kosikia to the north of the island, you can admire this Byzantine fortress, inside which was built the church of St. George's of Dorgana.
- Gladero, Drakano, Agia Eirini: You may also look for the village Glaredo where a settlement of Neolithic Period was discovered, the megalithic monuments north of Drakano and the ruins of the roman conservatory on the north side of the hill of Agia Eirini.
- The museums: Visit the History Museums of Agios Kirikos and Campos, where you will see ancient vases, stone and bronze tools, figurines, funerary reliefs, coins and many other exhibits, while at the folklore museums of Agios Polycarpos and Vrakades you will be introduced to the local customs and traditions.
There are daily connections from Pireas, the main port of Athens, to both Evdilos and Agios Kirikios and you can reach the island in about 7 hours. If you are short on time, you can catch a direct flight from Athens' international airport.
- Ikaria: A Love Odyssey on a Greek Island: "Nonfiction by an author who has traveled to Greece during three different phases of her lifetime and has written about the small island Ikaria, it's inhabitants, it's distinctly remarkable beauty, and it's cultural life, and about how her love affair with the island has deeply affected her own life. Anita Sullivan's first book received the Western States Creative Nonfiction Award. Ikaria was written with the same excellence and should be well received."
- Beyond the Blue Ikarian Sea: "The innocent early childhood of the author, on a beautiful and serene Greek island, was painfully interrupted by World War II. The inevitable impact upon the development of the author's personality and character, as well as all facets of life in Greece brought about by the war, the occupation, the famine, the flight to Palestine, and the subsequent civil war was profound. It is presented realistically in the first half of the book, from historical and political points of view, as objectively as humanly possible. The second half depicts the author as a university professor in North America, embroiled in continuous struggle, trying to cope with educational, societal, xenophobic, anti-foreign, jingoistic, and racial issues while striving to advance his own scientific career in the face of numerous family disasters. The reminiscence of the blue sea surrounding the faraway island provided him with the peace of mind needed to cope with such complex and difficult issues."